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Jimmy Hill, who helped remove soccer wage cap, dies at 87

December 19, 2015

Jimmy Hill, a former footballer, coach and union leader who ushered player-power and soaring salaries into the British game by masterminding the abolition of the maximum wage, has died. He was 87.

Hill’s family said in a statement he died Saturday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Unmistakable with his beard and protruding chin, Hill was one of the most influential figures in British football history — not because of actions on the field but for what he did off it.

Toward the end of a 12-year, injury-curtailed playing career at London clubs Brentford and Fulham, Hill became chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association in 1957 and campaigned against a wage cap that stood at 20 pounds.

Four years later, Hill left the Ministry of Labour in London with a deal that gave footballers the right to negotiate the market rate. A threatened player strike was called off and England captain Johnny Haynes, a teammate of Hill’s at Fulham, became the first 100-pound-a-week player.

“I was keen on working-class rights,” Hill said in 2001 on the 40th anniversary of the biggest win of his football career. “But I wasn’t really what you’d call a political animal.”

After retiring because of a knee injury in 1961, Hill took over as manager of third-tier struggler Coventry and guided them into England’s top flight — then known as the First Division — by 1967. He later became a director and chairman of the Midlands club and there is a statue of Hill outside its Ricoh Arena stadium.

Hill was also chairman at Charlton and then at Fulham, where he led a consortium to rescue the club from liquidation and steer it away from a merger with Queens Park Rangers.

His involvement in every echelon of football also extended to the television studio, where he was a respected commentator and presenter for the BBC and rival stations.

A qualified referee, Hill once left the commentary box during a match between Arsenal and Liverpool in 1972 to run the line when a linesman was injured.

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